Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

like Sister Josepha or resigning herself to death-in-life like the African nun. She heads down the hill and leads her people toward achieving pride in themselves and their culture.


NOTES
1.
Having her protagonist address God with this mixture of French and Spanish is one of the subtle ways in which Dunbar-Nelson reveals her character's Creole heritage.
2.
Again, Dunbar-Nelson only subtly alludes to race by crediting Camille's "blood" as a particular kind, having particular sensitivities.
3.
Andrew O. Wiget explains in his discussion of the story's cultural and historical background that "Indian reservations in the 1930s were notorious for their poverty, their high mortality rate, their chronic unemployment" (854).
4.
Another comparison between the behavior of the two women satirizes the Christian belief in sacrifice and martyrdom: Walker's African nun comments upon how she must "always bathe [her]self in cold water even in winter" (114). In trying to prove herself worthy of Christ, Pauline tortures herself unmercifully. Two of the less abusive--but most revealing because ridiculous--ways are that she restricts the number of times a day she can relieve herself and wears her shoes on the wrong feet.
5.
As Andrew Wiget explains the role of Christian missionaries, "One of the principal policies of the United States was to transform Native Americans into carbon copies of Anglo-Americans. and one of the principal ways that they hoped to accomplish this, ever since the Grant administration of the 1870s was through religion. . . . The objective was to get rid of the Indian while saving the man. Culture was imagined as a number of practices and behaviors and customs, which--if they could be changed--would eliminate all the historic obstacles to the Indians' participation in Anglo-American Culture. Of course, if they were eliminated, so would the Indian nest be eliminated. Religion then is hardly a simple spiritual force, but an agent of the interests of the Euro-American majority" (854).
6.
One is here reminded of Nanapush, Pauline/Leopolda's nemesis in Tracks, who takes Lulu Lamartine out of a school that would try to drive her culture out of her.
7.
This observation about Sister Josepha recalls the earlier discussion of the source of Pauline's behavior. She, too, lacked a communal sense when living among the Chippewa people, in her case because of their treatment of people with mixed blood living among them.

WORKS CITED

Dunbar-Nelson Alice. Vol. I of The Works of Alice Dunbar-Nelson. 3 vols. Ed. Gloria T. Hull . Schomburg Library of Nineteenth-Century Black Women Writers Series. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Erdrich Louise. Love Medicine. New York: Bantam, 1984.

Fontenot Chester J. "Alice Walker 'The Diary of an African Nun' and Dubois' Double Consciousness". Journal of Anglo-American Issues 5 ( 1977): 192-96.

O'Leary Rev. Donald J. "On 'The Diary of an African Nun.'" Freedomways 9 ( 1969): 70-71.

Peterson Nancy J. "History, Postmodernism, and Louise Erdrich's Tracks". Publications of the Modern Language Association 109 ( 1994): 982-94.

Walker Alice. "Alice Walker's Reply". Freedomways 9 ( 1969): 71-73.

______. In Love and Trouble. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.

Wiget Andrew O. "Louise Erdrich (Chippewa) (h. 1954)". In Instructor's Guide for Heath Anthology of American Literature. 2nd ed. Ed. John Alberti. Lexington, Ma.: D.C, Heath, 1994.

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